THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER REVIEW: 'It's Not About Jimmy Keene' and 'Work in Progress': TV Reviews | Sundance 2019 by Daniel Fienberg
Caleb Jaffe and Abby McEnany are among the breakout creator-stars of the Sundance Film Festival's Indie Episodic Program #2.
After doing six Indie Episodic "programs" in 2018, Sundance tightened its focus to a pair of slates consisting of nine shows, with both programs premiering back-to-back on Tuesday afternoon.
It was the second of the two programs that brought both of the shows I'd like to champion most aggressively this year, even if one of them probably didn't belong in this particular Sundance section at all.
Created by Abby McEnany and Tim Mason, starring McEnany and directed by Mason, Work in Progress is actually a terrific template for an ongoing series, which really ought to be the bare minimum for what qualifies a show for the Indie Episodic section. Do I have a sense of what the second episode is? Am I curious what the 50th episode is? If I can't say "yes" to both of those questions, it's not a pilot and it's probably a short film instead. And that's OK! McEnany, a Chicago-area comic and actress I'd never seen before, plays Abby, a self-described 45-year-old "queer dyke" with insecurity about her weight and building depression. After an incident with a mean co-worker, Abby decides that she's giving life 180 days to get better. If it doesn't, she's going to kill herself. Abby makes this announcement to her psychiatrist, who dies mid-session. Hope begins to emerge in unexpected forms, thanks to a flirtation with a trans male waiter half her age and a chance meeting with Julia Sweeney, the bane of Abby's youth.
Unlike Work in Progress, It's Not About Jimmy Keene probably isn't really a TV pilot, no matter what anybody says. I don't know what a second episode would be, much less anything beyond that. Still, even if you just approach it as a short film, it's a stunningly mature debut for Caleb Jaffe, who wrote, directed, co-edited and stars in a project he basically financed by dropping out of college.
Set in 2015 in the West Adams neighborhood of Los Angeles, It's Not About Jimmy Keene centers on Ivan, a young man uncertain of his place in the world as his two sisters (Gabrielle Maiden and Okwui Okpokwasili) bicker about racial identity, his father (David Warshofsky) returns from a recent hospitalization and the family and the neighborhood and the nation are on the brink of an uprising after the shooting of a young black man in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Everything in this short speaks to a confidence you'd never imagine seeing how young Jaffe is. The film begins with a potent image of Jimmy Keene's floating body and moves straight into a bravura, single-shot performance art monologue from the great Roger Guenveur Smith, who also produced. The staging of the rest of the pilot is mostly in a single house, and that lets Jaffe show off a gift with performances and carefully escalated emotion. Okpokwasili brings a searing screen presence and she's more than matched by Maiden, whom I'd like to recommend to Julie Dash for her newly announced Angela Davis biopic.
These two pilots (or shorts) were so good that they made the first pieces of the program that preceded them fade a little.